Xerocon USA: Signs of things to come

Portents from Xerocon USA
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The US Xerocon is the smallest in the cloud accounting software developer’s global circuit of live events, but comes first in the annual calendar. John Stokdyk looks for clues to UK developments in last week’s announcements from San Diego, California.

With our US colleague Seth Fineberg tweeting from the Xerocon auditorium, we got a regular feed of updates from the event taking place 6,000 miles away. One of the most quoted was CEO Steve Vamos saying to look for Xero to do more with practice management.

UK readers may remember the big reveal from the London Xerocon last November was the Instafile acquisition that moved Xero into specialist practice software market.

Xero has danced a curious hokey cokey on this score in the past, acquiring Workflow Max and turning it into Xero Practice Manager before altering course and adopting a more collaborative, platform-based approach with Xero HQ in 2017. This is something of a software VIP lounge, where Xero’s favourite specialist practice add-ons can be accessed from a common dashboard and activity feed.

The platform concept has taken root within Xero. As Xero’s Nick Houldsworth explained in a blog on day one of Xerocon San Diego, “The platform we’re building will deliver leading-edge, data-driven technology to small businesses and their advisors. Through it, we’ll be able to create deep connections with millions of small businesses and their advisors around the world, so that collectively they are as powerful, or more powerful than the biggest companies.”

Stripe integration

Houldsworth positioned several of his show announcements within that platform setting, particularly a new direct integration with Stripe, the popular payments app. Within a couple of months, the collaboration will support an AutoPay function within Xero’s repeating invoice screen to let businesses set up and receive recurring payments with Stripe.

The payment mechanism will be accompanied by comprehensive transaction data feed to bring all Stripe payments into Xero for reconciliation. Xero CTO and co-founder Craig Walker said the objective of the exercise was to ease reconciliations for all businesses using Stripe, not just those invoicing from within Xero.

From his seat in the auditorium, Fineberg reported that the payments feed looked and worked like Xero’s existing bank reconciliation tool, with statement lines on the left showing payments and fees, while on the right hand column the user can bank rules.

New app marketplace

Also on show in San Diego was the latest revamp to the Xero App Marketplace, into what Houldsworth said would become “a personalised and intuitive experience” with recommendations suggested from within Xero HQ Explorer.

Xero founder and other commentators have commented for years on the downside of Xero’s massive success with third-party app developers. With more than 1,000 to chose from, users can find it difficult to find and commit to suitable tools.

The Xero HQ/platform philosophy attempts to address that issue and Houldsworth said there would be other situations like the Stripe integration: “Where we know a workflow or an app is of high importance to our subscribers or their advisors, we can build a deep product partnership with an app ourselves.” Such integrations have been put in place with fintechs and banking parters as well as Mailchimp and Trello.

To be honest the tech announcements from San Diego aren’t overwhelming, and probably didn’t excite the US crowd as much as the UK Instafile announcement last November. Instead, there were signs of a new vibe coming from Xero, as though it’s shifting its emphasis from the technology cutting edge to a fuzzier, more cuddly identity, with Vamos emphasising the concept of community in his keynote speech. “Every organisation is a part of a social network, how connected are you?” he asked the crowd in California. “Change is hard and staying connected can help on that journey"

We asked Xero UK managing director Gary Turner for his reading of the runes from the US event: “Through certain eyes what we showed at San Diego may look like relatively ordinary improvements, but that is indicative of a product and platform that is constantly being built and improved. We don’t wait every year and stockpile changes for a new release – the nature of how you add to and build on a product has changed.”

The AutoPay integration with Stripe was a pretty big announcement, he added. “You can connect any payment service to Xero, but this is the first time we’ve done it in app. We keen to see how this feature will pan out,” Turner said.

“Our research shows that getting bills paid on time is still a significant problem for business and we know when Xero customers connect a payment service, their bills get paid 10 days faster. So we’re looking at what we can do to make that invoicing workflow more automatic by connecting both ends of those cables in the product. It’s not just automatic invoicing, but automatically collecting it when it’s due. Why wouldn’t you want that?”

Looking back at the San Diego Xerocon Turner said there was “stuff we’re not able to talk about now” that will feature more prominently at Xerocon London in November.

“We’ll take on and emphasise the part the platform and partnerships are playing. Now that we’ve shown cloud is good for your bookkeeping, what are we building on top of that? And we recognise we don’t have to build everything ourselves – banks, independent software vendors and private in-house developers can all contribute. We see the power of the API in Xero as something we want to showcase.”

For more information about the London event on 13-14 November, visit the Xerocon page.

About John Stokdyk

John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight

AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.

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